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Cozumel

Beautiful Isla Cozumel is an immensely popular vacation and diving destination located in the Caribbean Sea off the Riviera Maya coastline in Mexico. The island is relatively small, only 10 miles wide and 30 miles long but packs a big punch with many...

Categories: Mexico


Mexico’s Top 3: Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel

Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel are three of the best tourist destinations across the country of Mexico. The region’s riviera is known worldwide for its idyllic landscapes, activities of all kinds, cuisine of great proportions and its incomparable b...

Categories: Mexico


The island of Cozumel lies just twelve miles off the Yucatan Coast, a 45 minute ferry ride from the famed Riviera Maya. Dive into the crystal blue waters of Cozumel and discover why Jacques Cousteau called it the "best diving area in the world." Palancar Reef, the second largest in the world, provides an incredible diversity of species, stunning sites and visibility of at least 150 feet. Whether you're a first time snorkeler or an experienced diver, the intricate coral reefs and teems of painted fish will amaze you!
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7-night Maya Magnificence Voyage

Price: $2,199 - # of Days: 7 days

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19-night Caribbean Spectrum Voyage

Price: $6,699 - # of Days: 19 days

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17-night Panama Canal & The Pacific Coast Cruise

Price: $6,499 - # of Days: 17 days

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137-night Viking World Cruise

Price: $59,995 - # of Days: 137 days

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5-night Riviera Maya Cruise

Price: $1,219 - # of Days: 5 days

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Cozumel


Cozumel, Mexico, should not be compared to Cancun, the splashy resort just 40 mi/65 km to the north and one of its nearest neighbors. In the past, Cozumel had a laid-back, sedate atmosphere, and its superior fishing, snorkeling and diving gave it a definite edge.

Today, Cozumel retains its unique vibe and remains a better choice for those who don't like planned resorts, but the island is no longer an escapist's paradise. The snorkeling, diving and fishing are still great, but no one would mistake present-day Cozumel for the sleepy backwater it once was.

One reason is cruise ships. Cozumel is the most popular cruise stop in Mexico and has hosted as many as 33 ships in one week. When more than one ship looms on the horizon, Cozumel's restaurants, bars and shops fill with day-trippers.

Still, Cozumel can be fun, especially for travelers interested in exploring its coral reefs on scuba and snorkeling outings. After all, it's home of the largest reef in the Americas. The island's only town, San Miguel, has retained much of its pleasant, small-town atmosphere. Those with enough time for a day trip will find the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan mainland, within striking distance.

Must See or Do

Sights—Deserted beaches on Cozumel's rugged east coast; sea and jungle vistas in the Faro Celarain Eco Park; the Maya ruins at San Gervasio.

Museums—The Museo de la Isla de Cozumel with its haunting Maya sculptures; the Navigational Museum with its unique navigational exhibits; the San Miguel Pax Music Museum with its collection of almost 1,000 different musical instruments from around the world.

Memorable Meals—Pasta with fresh seafood in Guido's romantic courtyard.

Late Night—Frolic and fun at Senor Frog's and Carlos'n Charlie's; break a sweat dancing at OFF Site; street festivities during Carnival.

Walks—The malecon, San Miguel's pretty seaside promenade; the botanical gardens in Parque Nacional Chankanaab; the seaside trails and views of Mayan ruins in Faro Celarain Eco Park.

Especially for Kids—Dolphin encounters at Parque Nacional Chankanaab; underwater tours with Atlantis Adventures submarines.

Geography

Cozumel is Mexico's largest island—33 mi/53 km long and 8 mi/13 km wide. The island is very flat. From the mainland, the tall hotel buildings appear to float on the horizon. Shops, restaurants and nightlife are concentrated in San Miguel, the only town, which is on the west coast of the island.

Cozumel has two highways. One makes a half-circle around the southern end of the island. Heading south out of San Miguel, it's a four-lane road for about 5 mi/8 km before narrowing to two lanes. The other highway is the Carretera Transversal (the cross-island highway), which is a well-maintained road that cuts straight through the jungle-covered center of the island and connects the east and west coasts.

It's hard to get lost in downtown San Miguel if you know the layout: Avenidas (avenues) run north-south, and calles (streets) run east-west. Except for the large thoroughfares, such as Avenida Melgar (also known as the Malecon or waterfront), Calle 11 and the island highways, most roads are one way.

History

The oldest Maya ruin on Cozumel dates from AD 300. The Maya believed that Cozumel was the spiritual home of Ixchel, the goddess of fertility and love. Maya women and men were said to make a pilgrimage to the island at least once in their lifetimes to ensure the healthy birth of their children.

The name Cozumel comes from the Mayan word Cuzamil-Peten, which means "Land of the Swallows." (Ixchel was often depicted with swallows at her feet.)

Cozumel was a quiet place until the early 1960s, when it was first visited by Jacques Cousteau, the well-known underwater explorer and documentary filmmaker. He put the island on the map as one of the great diving destinations in the world. The second-largest reef system in the world, the Mesoamerican, starts here, snaking its way south to as far away as Honduras.

In recent decades, Cozumel has experienced the tourism boom that has transformed the northern Yucatan, and it has become an increasingly popular destination for cruise ships.

Potpourri

The El Cedral Festival was started about 150 years ago by Casimiro Cardenas. He survived an attack during the War of the Castes by clutching a small wooden cross and started the festival to honor its power.

Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conqueror of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century, made his first landfall from Cuba at Cozumel. Soon after the Maya population was decimated by smallpox carried by the Spaniards.

Prior to the arrival of Cortes, a Spansh sailor named Gonzalo Guerrero was shipwrecked at Cozumel along with Franciscan friar Geronimo Aguilar. The pair were imprisoned by a Maya chieftain. A few years later, Guerrero married the daughter of the chieftain and their children were the first mestizos (mixed race) of New Spain, from which the majority of Mexicans are descended.

Cozumel was a sacred island according to its first settlers, the Maya. They dedicated the island to the moon goddess Ixchel and built many temples in her honor.

Cozumel was a favorite lair for some of the most notorious pirates along the Spanish Main. Henry Morgan, the most famous of them, went on to become the British governor of Jamaica as Sir Henry Morgan.

A large population that is descended from the ancient Maya lives in Cozumel—you'll know them by their Mayan dialect, round faces, dark almond-shaped eyes, coal-black hair and short stature. The women wear traditional embroidered huipil dresses, which look like sacks and help keep them cool in the heat of the day.

Black coral used to be harvested by native divers who plunged more than 100 ft/31 m beneath the surface of the ocean without the use of air tanks. Now the coral is on the endangered list, and its sale is prohibited by international law.

The island's airport was used as a U.S. Navy base during World War II.

Cozumel's Ironman Triathlon each fall is considered the best in the country and draws scores of international participants.

Biodegradable sunscreen is the only sunscreen permitted in Cozumel waters. Most venues will provide it free of charge or for a small fee.

Location

Cruise ships visiting Cozumel dock at the International Pier, Punta Langosta or Puerta Maya (the most developed; http://www.puertamaya.com), all of which have been reconstructed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. For more information on each facility, see http://www.cozumelmycozumel.com/Pages/CozumelCruisesBasics.htm.

During peak times, some ships anchor offshore there and tender passengers to land. These are marked on cruise ship itineraries as fundeo.

Punta Langosta pier is a 10-minute walk, and the International Pier is a short taxi ride or a 2-mi/3-km walk along the waterfront to San Miguel. Puerta Maya's 9-acre/4-hectare cruise center has a transportation hub that can accommodate dozens of taxis and tour buses. The three piers have shopping malls, internet access, Wi-Fi, taxis and tour stands.

A tourist-information office on the municipal pier and a booth in the nearby park are open daily 8 am-9 pm. The island's main tourism office is on the second floor of the Plaza del Sol shopping center on the east side of the town plaza, half a block from the municipal pier. It's open Monday-Friday 8 am-3 pm. Phone 987-869-0212. http://www.islacozumel.com.mx.



Shore Excursions

Typical tours may include visiting the Maya ruins at Tulum; outdoor adventures such as snorkeling, scuba diving, sportfishing, a dune-buggy tour, a tequila history tour or a jungle tour on horseback; golf; or a shopping expedition to Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Cruise passengers can take the 45-minute ferry to see Playa del Carmen's shops, stalls, vendors, restaurants and bars, where a party-hearty atmosphere rules day and night. The main shopping street in Playa is Fifth Avenue, and it's got a few familiar names such as Starbucks and Tommy Bahama. There are also shops and stalls touting Mexican wares. Do be prepared to bargain in the markets and stalls—not, however, in retail stores. Some passengers opt for Xcaret, an archaeology-ecological Mexican theme park, or Xel-Ha, an immense water park built around a natural lagoon. Both are a short drive from Playa del Carmen.

Note: Long trousers, sturdy shoes, socks and long sleeves are best for jungle treks. Take along plenty of sunscreen, water and insect repellent, and don't forget to spray your ankles. A hat that shades your face from the sun is also a good idea.




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